Police officers, armed with a search warrant for Sherman Dees‘s residence, proceeded to that location to conduct a search for illegal narcotics. As the officers neared the residence, officers in one vehicle spotted Dees driving away in his own vehicle. These officers proceeded to stop Dees.
They informed him that a search of his residence was imminent and required him to return to the residence with them. To facilitate his return, one officer accompanied Dees in his vehicle while the other officer drove the police vehicle. Prior to entering Dees’s vehicle, the officers inquired if there was anything in the vehicle they needed to be aware of and Dees informed them that there was a firearm in the glove box.
By the time Dees and the officers reached the residence, the other officers had already announced their presence and forcibly entered the dwelling when they received no reply. Dees was required to enter the residence and sit on the couch while the search was conducted.
Testimony offered at trial indicated that Dees, three other adults, and two children all occupied the residence as their primary dwelling. The evidence indicated that the adults were roommates who merely shared living expenses and that each of them had separate areas of the home to use as sleeping quarters.
During the course of the search, a small quantity of marijuana was discovered together with a rifle and a handgun. After the drugs and firearms were discovered, Dees was given his Miranda rights warning by one of the officers and he thereafter admitted ownership of the two firearms found in the dwelling.
Both the firearms found in the residence and the handgun seized from the glove box of his automobile were mentioned in the indictment. Dees was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and sentenced to six months.
On appeal, Dees argued that the handgun found in his vehicle’s glove box was an illegal search since the warrant covered only his domicile. He points out that the vehicle, at the time the search commenced, was not on the premises and thus could not be a legitimate subject of search under the warrant.
It is a fundamental concept of police work that officers, in the course of conducting an investigation that involves close contact with persons suspected of criminal activity, are entitled to take reasonable precautions to ensure their safety. See, e.g., Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). It is possible to draw a reasonable conclusion that the officer made an inquiry as to the existence of weapons, not intending to extract an admission of criminal activity, but simply to protect the officers involved in enforcing the search warrant.
In Michigan v Summers, 452 U.S. 692 (1981), the U.S. Supreme Court held that there can be no doubt that the officers have the right to detain a suspect temporarily, even without an arrest warrant, while carrying out a search of the detainee’s residence pursuant to a search warrant. In Summers, the Supreme Court noted that one of the justifications for temporarily detaining the suspect was the interest in minimizing the risk of harm to the officers.
As a part of that temporary detention, the officers must be entitled to take reasonable precautions to ensure that the detained individual will not be able to offer sudden violent resistance to those conducting the search. As the Supreme Court specifically noted in Michigan v. Summers, especially when narcotics are involved, the search is the kind of transaction that may give rise to sudden violence or frantic efforts to conceal or destroy evidence.
That right to take reasonable precautions for the safety of the investigating officers could certainly be seen as extending to ensuring that there are no weapons within easy reach of the temporarily detained suspect by conducting a Terry search of the suspect’s person and a further search into those areas within his immediate control.
In this case, that would necessarily include the glove box of the vehicle driven by the suspect. We do not find it of any particular moment that the weapon was discovered through the suspect’s own response to an inquiry about weapons rather than a physical search, which could have been undertaken in all events, even over the objection of the suspect.
Therefore, we conclude that the weapon in the vehicle was discovered as a result of constitutionally permissible efforts by the investigating officers to protect their physical safety while temporarily detaining Dees during the course of carrying out a search of his residence.
Seen in that light, the discovery of the firearm in Dees’s vehicle’s glove box was not the fruit of an unreasonable search that violated any protections afforded to Dees under the Fourth Amendment.
- In Bailey v. U.S., 568 U.S. 186 (2013), the U.S. Supreme Court limited the Summers doctrine to the immediate vicinity of the premises. Most courts have now interpreted this to be the curtilage of the home. Thus, if the car was outside of the curtilage of the home, it can no longer be stopped pursuant to the Summers doctrine.
- If you do use Summers to detain someone when executing a search warrant, note that Summers was a narcotics search warrant and the persons detained were occupants of the home. There are many states and federal circuits that limit Summers doctrine to narcotics and contraband cases. This is the only Mississippi appellate case that I found which speaks of Summers and the wording in the opinion leaves it open as to whether it could apply for other search warrants besides narcotics. Talk to your prosecutor if you have questions.